A story from Baltimore in Crime & Justice News yesterday raised the question of how a man with 17 arrests in the last three years could be out on the street in a position to kill a police officer. The Baltimore Sun explored that issue. When the future of Brandon Grimes was in the hands of Baltimore Judge M. Brooke Murdock nearly two years ago, he had two previous criminal convictions – both for nonviolent offenses – on his record. The new charges were also for nonviolent offenses committed while he was on probation. So Murdock – like other city judges routinely dealing with heavy caseloads – accepted a guilty plea from Grimes for theft and multiple probation violations, giving him four concurrent six-month prison sentences. Under a previously suspended sentence for an earlier conviction, Murdock could have put him away for as long as 10 years. Now Grimes stands accused of killing an off-duty city police officer this week in a botched robbery.
“These were all nonviolent offenses,” Murdock told the Sun. The judge said: “I felt six months was appropriate. In hindsight. I would love to have a crystal ball and know which defendants who appear before me will commit acts of violence.” Judge John Glynn, chief of the Circuit Court’s criminal docket, said, “we have to acknowledge the systemic failures.” Glynn said that the circuit courts deal with about 10,000 felony cases a year but have the capacity to hold only about 500 jury trials. He said Murdock’s action in Grimes’ case – where the penalties for a probation violation and a new offense are combined when a defendant agrees to plead guilty – are common in a system struggling to respond to the “huge number of crimes we have in the city of Baltimore.”